Wednesday, October 14, 2009

When They Can’t Transform

I’m posting today about the issue our shapeshifting heroes and heroines sometimes face: the inability to transform.

In the first of my Guardian’s Realm series, The Combat, my hero Davin was badly wounded by an arrow through the neck and had to transform into stone; the Guardian’s sleep state, in order to survive.

But in the second book, when whisked away to a magical prison, my hero Balin was faced with a similar situation and was unable to transform to protect himself. The castle-prison’s enchantment prevented it.

To lose their superhero abilities is the worst thing that can happen to our characters. Anyone remember X Men II, when Mistique was hit with the dart intended for Magneto and cured of her mutant powers? Even though she was somewhat bad, I felt sorry for her!

I won’t tell you how Balin survived, but here is a short excerpt.

From Crystal Kauffman’s Guardian’s Realm: The Collision Available Now

 * * * * *

     Balin stopped to listen for the hundredth time, certain now someone, or something, was following him. Animal or animal-like prints in the dusty floor confirmed this was how the creatures had gotten inside the castle. But how?
     He'd found the hole carved however many centuries ago, but once it emerged at the side of the mountain, Balin could go no farther. Just as Count Zlatko who, desperate to escape, had followed these catacombs, digging and carving for however many years it had taken, until he'd finally accepted that there was no escape.
     Perhaps that was when he'd decided to use the enchanted blade.
     The same magic that kept the count from getting out was supposed to keep all others from getting in. After all, Count Zlatko had not been allowed visitors.
     And yet gotten in they had.
     But what had urged them to enter the castle again, after all this time? Had the beasts smelled the food when he, Gladiolas, and Fitch first arrived? Were the creatures cunning enough to trek down the mountain to the hole and follow the tunnels back to the scullery?
     That was a disconcerting thought.
     He stopped again. Not nearly as disconcerting as knowing something is following me that is smart enough to keep itself hidden until the perfect moment to attack.
     The trek down had taken a full day. He'd had to crawl on hands and knees through some of the more narrowly carved passages. He'd now been on the return trek for six hours. He was nearly back to the castle.
     He couldn't lead this thing, whatever or whoever it was, back to Gladiolas and Fitch.
     Time to take a stand.
     A jagged outcropping of solid stone in a tall cavern made a natural corner that served his purpose. He picked up a rock from the rubble-strewn floor and hunkered behind the outcropping, arm raised.
     Long moments of total silence passed as he hid. This had better work. If not, he could not return to the castle. He either had to lead the creature away or die trying.
     That meant help would not arrive for Gladiolas and Fitch. They would spend eternity in a prison not intended for them.
     Oddly, the emotion gripping him was not jealousy, but raw concern and poignant regret. He might never see Gladiolas's beautiful face again. Never hear Fitch's biting sarcasm. Never again watch their two beautiful bodies tangled in the throes of passion.
     A rustling sound drew his full attention. Then a snuffle and a swish, closer now. He hurled the rock deep into the tunnel, hoping to convince whatever hunted him that he was farther along.
     A grunt, and then footfalls hurried closer, a beast, trotting on all fours.
     Balin leaped from behind the outcropping, lance pointed. He immediately jerked the blade upward as the hellhound lunged. It was bigger than he had dreamed possible.
     A split second of recognition explained how it had gotten past the castle's magical barrier. It was a crossbreed. When the enchantment had faded on the castle, the hellhounds had strayed. One had mated with some poor wild creature, creating this abomination.
     The beast reared up, knocking rubble from the cavern's ceiling with its barbed head. A row of thick spikes ran down its spine, not unlike the bristly hackles on a hyena. It possessed a ruff of thick fur, but otherwise its body had the dragonlike, leathery-tough scales of the hellhounds.
     It roared, baring dinosaur teeth.
     Saber-toothed hellhound.
     A paw swiped, claws bared like a cougar's. Balin jerked the lance blade back, but not quickly enough. The creature's meaty paw splintered the wood and sent the sharp tip flying past his head like artillery shrapnel.
     He jabbed with the splintered wood, hoping to convince it back down the tunnel. Lightning fast, it swiped again, tearing through Balin's upper arm. Immediately it lunged, snapping at his throat. Balin poked, aiming for its throat as well. The wood crushed, unable to penetrate the thick hide.
     “Get back, you unholy thing!”
     Snapping jaws caught his shoulder and tore.
     Balin tried to transform. A jerk of the creature's head whipped him around. The useless wood flew from his hand.
     Another swipe of claws raked down his back, through his shirt. The leather jacket he'd tied around his waist was torn off. He spun, nearly went down. A heavy paw raked across his upper body, the other across his midsection.
     The transformation would not come. The castle's enchantment prevented it.
     Of course. Why hadn't I realized?
     The creature charged but was caught against a jutting rock. Balin shoved away and stumbled up the tunnel. Rubble exploded around him as the creature burst free. Fangs sank into his thigh, picked him up, and slammed him against the ceiling before throwing him to the ground. He tumbled and rolled, crashing against the wall.
     Balin found himself lying beside the shattered lance spear. He managed to lift it as the creature lunged. The splintered wood penetrated the beast's soft underbelly.
     It reared above him, letting loose another earthshaking roar. Balin turned his head, knowing it wasn't enough to kill the thing.
     There, in the dirt beside him, lay the severed tip of the lance. He grasped the blade's neck. The creature came at him, jaws wide. Its stinking, wet mouth closed around his throat.
     As darkness draped over him like a warm, welcoming shroud, Balin took the blade in both hands and drove upward while hoping, for Gladiolas's and Fitch's sakes, the blade hit its mark.


Anonymous said...

You felt bad for Mystique? I felt horrible for Magneto when he got "cured" at the end. To go from a super-powerful force of nature to an old man sitting alone at a chessboard had to be devastating.

Hey. I like the bad guys. They always get the best lines.

In my "universe," I've established that shifters' bodies lose their "elasticity" as they approach middle age, making shape-changing difficult and eventually impossible. I haven't directly addressed this yet, but maybe it's time I did. That, and the fact so few shifters actually reach middle age. If you were a shapeshifter and suddenly had to choose to spend the rest of your life in only one form, human or animal, which would you choose, and why?

Pat C.

Paris said...

What an exciting excerpt! I'm definitely going to have to check this out. Your voice is perfect for the action and I do love a hero who does what it takes to get the job done.

Savanna Kougar said...

Crystal, fantastic action scene. A half-hellhound gone bad is never a good thing. Not being able to transform when needed always tests the heroes or heroines mettle.

Savanna Kougar said...

Pat, for me, it would depend on the state of the world, so to speak. And also on my mate, if I had one, and my family. What their choices are.
It would certainly make for a fascinating story.
Personally, I'd hate to have to make that decision.

Crystal Kauffman said...

I'd have to say if I were going to be stuck one way or another, it would be in human form, only because animals live longer than most animals. Except if I were a bird shifter. I think I'd be happy spending my golden years soaring through the sky.